NASCAR Changes Qualifying Format
posted by Summer Bedgood
Tuesday March 11, 2014
Following safety concerns regarding NASCAR’s new qualifying format, the sanctioning body is introducing some changes in preparation for this weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. According to the Associated Press, NASCAR is banning teams from cool-down laps after their qualifying attempts, but will instead be allowed to hook up cool-down units to the engine through hood flaps.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a release from NASCAR fully detailed the changes. Teams will be allowed a single cool down unit to be connected through the right or left side hood flap, however the hood must remain closed. Additionally, two crew members will be allowed over the wall while cooling down.
“The qualifying is new to all of us and as we have said over the past several weeks, we are looking at it from all aspects,” said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition and racing development. “Following discussions, both internally and with others in the garage area, we moved quickly to make a few revisions that will be effective starting with our two national series events at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. We believe this will only enhance and improve what has demonstrated to be an exciting form of qualifying for our fans, competitors and others involved with the sport. Moving forward we will continue to look at it and address anything else that we may need to as the season unfolds.”
The move comes after three weeks of NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying system, where multiple cars are allowed to make qualifying attempts at the same time instead of the traditional one-car-at-a-time procedure. Drivers and teams had complained that the new rules didn’t allow them to cool their engines down on pit road, and the cool-down laps caused a dangerous situation with slower cars staying on the track at the same time that other cars were running by them at much higher speeds.
The rule will begin this weekend in Bristol, a track that has a much narrower racing surface than Daytona, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Born: January 13th, 1959
As the Nextel Cup tour heads out west to California this week, we profile one of the Golden State's native sons and one of the most popular drivers and personalities in NASCAR. Ernie Irvan of Modesto, CA was part of a group of drivers who came to the sport in the late 80's and early 90's from a part of the United States not traditionally known for producing circle track drivers. Before Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Robby Gordon, there was Ernie "Swervin'" Irvan. Irvan was bestowed that nickname following a series of incidents in the early 90's that raised the ire of a number of drivers. Through that however, one of the more popular drivers in the garage area would emerge, proving that everyone who is contrite should get a second chance. What we didn't know, was that Ernie would need a third and fourth chance as well.
Ernie Irvan was born in Salinas, California on January 13th, 1959. He is the son of Vic and Jo Irvan, who's family moved to California following the Dust Bowls of Oklahoma during the 1930s. Ernie's career had a rather inauspicious start before his days of driving two of the most recognizable cars in motorsports. He began racing Go-Karts at the tender age of 9 years old. He would win the California Karting Championship when he was 15 years old, clearing the way for him to compete in stockcars. So dedicated was Ernie that he missed his high school graduation to race at Riverside, CA. He decided to roll the dice and leave California for NASCAR country with only $700 and some tools. He stopped along the way in Las Vegas, rolled the dice again, and brought that total to $900. He was actually working as a welder, assembling grandstand seating at Charlotte Motor Speedway when he was approached by Dale Earnhardt Sr. about driving.
Ernie made his Winston Cup debt in September of 1987 at Richmond under the old Fairgrounds configuration. He started 20th and finished 29th driving a car owned and sponsored by Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet. His debut only lasted 35 laps, the result of an over-heated engine. Irvan appeared about out of luck after a three race stint with Earnhardt, but following a strong 8th place run at Charlotte where a couple of weeks earlier he had been welding seats together, he caught the eye of owner D.K. Ulrich. He would drive the #2 Kroger Chevrolet (and Pontiac) in 1988 for Ulrich, narrowly losing rookie of the year to former Modified star Ron Bouchard, in the closest Rookie of The Year points battle in history (3 points). He drove again for Ulrich in 1989. As the 1990 season approached, it appeared Ernie was out of luck yet again, as sponsorship for the 1990 season failed to materialize. Three races into the 1990 season he took over what would become one of the most visible cars on the tour, the #4 Kodak cars owned by Larry McClure. It was a good fit, as the outsider from California drove for a team based not in North Carolina, but in Abington, Virginia. They got off to a fast start, with Ernie qualifying 30th at Atlanta, but ending the day with a remarkable 3rd place finish, the first top 5 of his career.
Ernie's first win came in 1990 in the Goody's 500 night race at Bristol, TN. However 1990 was also the year where he triggered a wreck at Darlington in the TransSouth 500 that nearly claimed the life of Neil Bonnett. Bonnett sustained a severe head injury that forced him into semi-retirement, and left him unable to compete until he attempted a comeback in 1993.
With a win under his belt, Irvan and the #4 team were poised to make some noise in 1991. They served notice right off the bat at Daytona by qualifying on the front row in 2nd place. Irvan would lead 29 laps on his way to winning the 1991 Daytona 500. With 3 laps to go there was a wreck on the backstretch, involving primarily the man who was responsible for getting him there, Dale Earnhardt. The race would finish under caution, and Irvan would be flagged the winner of the Great American Race.
The Morgan-McClure team had tasted early success, but a few on-track incidents had ruffled a few feathers amongst his competitors. It all came to a head in May, when the Winston 500, run on a Monday due to a rainout, was the sight to one of the most memorable "Big Ones" in history. Irvan had run well in the race, leading 18 laps, but was now stuck in the middle of the pack, running three wide with Kyle Petty and Mark Martin. Irvan had been trying to get in line for a couple of laps and in the process put himself and his machine in a precarious position. Irvan bounced off of Martin, and into Kyle Petty's Mello Yello Pontiac. This turned both machines back into Martin, turning him sideways. Wally Dallenbach Jr. had no where to go, and struck Martin's Folger's Thunderbird in the nose as it turned backwards. Air got under the #6 car, standing it on its nose in the middle of traffic. What resulted was a 20-car junkyard in north central Alabama that left Petty with a broken leg, sidelining him for 12 races. Alan Kulwicki was critical of Irvan's driving, and upset over almost losing his feet in the accident. Kulwicki was hit in the door, the side of the car crushed all the way over against the clutch and brake pedals. Martin was quoted by racing publication Southern Motor Racing, as saying Irvan was "out of control".
It was time for an intervention. Ernie had a sit-down with Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, and director of competition Dick Beaty. The point was made to Ernie that if he was hungry, there wasn't a driver in the series that would give him a sandwich. Irvan asked to speak at a driver's meeting to address the lack of respect he had shown his fellow drivers. A noticeably contrite, shaken, and emotional Ernie Irvan addressed his fellow competitors before the Die Hard 500 in July at Talladega, and asked for 2nd chance to earn the respect and friendship back of those whom he had disappointed with his actions. It was a sincere moment, the likes of which has not been seen since. Today we are rewarded with drivers who, while the video replay of an accident of their making is shown, will deny any involvement with a straight-face, blame the other guy, rattle off some of their sponsors, or go to the cliched, "that's just racing"-card. While Irvan was one of the first successful drivers to come from the West, he is also one of the last drivers with the honor and courage to admit a mistake and ask for forgiveness. And actually mean it.
The next week at Watkins Glen, he was in a last lap duel with Mark Martin, who a few months earlier had questioned his driving and self-control. Going into the 1st turn, Martin made a move on Irvan under braking. Mark had driven in too deep and was about to wreck Irvan. Martin, out of respect to Irvan, intentionally spun his car to keep from taking him out. Ernie not only was receiving respect by his fellow drivers, but he also had solidified his versatility, having won his first three races on a short track, superspeedway, and now a road course. He further established himself as one of the top road racers the following year at Sears Point in Sonoma, CA. He was penalized for jumping the start of the race, which would leave him starting dead last. With only 3 caution periods to assist him, Ernie managed to make it all up, and outlasted Terry Labonte to take his 5th career victory. He was an unwitting factor in the final race of the 1992 season, when 6 drivers headed into the Hooters 500 with a chance to win the Winston Cup Championship. Irvan suffered a cut tire, and lost control of his #4 Kodak Lumina on lap 285, and inadvertently took out championship contender Davey Allison. It would not be the last time Irvan got up close and personal with the #28 Havoline Ford.
On April 1st, 1993, the racing world was shocked and saddened by the death of defending champion Alan Kulwicki in a plane crash. Later that year, Ernie's friend Davey Allison was also lost in a bizarre helicopter crash as he was attempting to land in the infield at Talladega where he planned to watch a friend test a racecar. This tragic occurrence left one of the most treasured rides in motorsports available. It was 1993, and it was in vogue to run a Ford. Robert Yates Racing was the top Ford team at the time, a single-car operation with Larry McReynolds turning the wrenches, and monster Blue Oval horsepower under the hood. Irvan desperately wanted to drive the car that was vacated by Davey's passing. A bitter dispute between him and owner Larry McClure erupted, eventually culminating in a lawsuit. Regardless, Irvan would leave the #4 car to drive for Yates Racing.
The combination was an instant success. Irvan finished 5th in his first outing with RYR, and would qualify 2nd in the next two races. He and the 28 car went on to score two wins as the 1993 season wound down, one at Martinsville, and again later at Charlotte, in an epic end of race battle with his two long-time friends Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt. The track where he was discovered welding seats, and where he scored his first top 10 finish, was the site of his latest triumph. In 1994 they got the ball rolling again with back to back wins at Richmond and Atlanta, and again at Sears Point, notching his 2nd win at that track. Irvan, along with Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, and Mark Martin were now dominating the series, and had earned the distinction "The Big Four", as each driver was consistently winning poles, races, and finishing in the top 5 for the season and the year prior. Everything was going well until the 2nd race at Michigan in August. A tire failed on the backstretch during practice, turning the #28 car head-on into the wall at over 170mph. In the blink of an eye, Irvan was unconscious, unresponsive, and barely clinging to life. The cursed #28 car, which twice in 1992 had it's driver Davey Allison cut out and rushed to the hospital, was cut open yet again with it's driver's life hanging in the balance with massive brain and internal injuries.
Miraculously, Ernie regained consciousness during a visit from friends Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin. He was lying in his hospital bed on a ventilator, unresponsive, with Vaseline smeared over his eyes to keep them from drying out. When he heard the sounds of his friend's voices, he began stirring, his hand moving towards them, reaching out to them. Ernie would have a long road of recovery ahead of him the next four months. He would recover well enough to walk on stage at the season ending Awards Banquet to claim his True Value Hard Charger Award. Even though he missed nearly half the season in a hospital bed, he still was in the top 5 more than any other driver, and tied Geoff Bodine for Pole positions. Ernie would return to the track wearing an eye patch, leaving Martin to quip, "Ernie with one eye is better than most of these guys with two." Dale Jarrett left the Joe Gibbs racing team at the end of 1994 to be the interim driver for the #28 Ford. Ernie would return later in 1995, driving the #88 car, which has since been a mainstay of the Robert Yates Racing organization. In 1996, Ernie would score his first win since the injury, at the Jiffy Lube 300 in Loudon, NH.
In 1997, Ernie Irvan would return to the Michigan International Speedway, determined to beat the track that nearly took his life just a few years earlier. In what was an emotional scene, with his wife Kim brought to tears in the final few circuits, Ernie led 33 laps en route to winning the Miller 400. Ernie was equally moved in his victory lane interview, as were the 150,000 plus in attendance and millions more watching on television. It would be his last year in the fabled #28 machine, as he was headed to the newly formed MB2 Motorpsorts team. Sponsored by Skittles, the #36 car was just as visible as the yellow #4 Kodak car he had become famous for piloting. He suffered a concussion following a wreck at Talladega that year and would sit out the final three races.
His 1999 season would be short-lived, and ultimately his last. Irvan again was dealt an unkind blow at the track that nearly killed him. During practice for the August Busch Grand National race at MIS, Irvan's car was struck broadside, leaving him again unconscious and airlifted to a hospital in Jackson, MI. It was then that Ernie Irvan decided that being able to drive his daughter to school was more important than driving around in a circle on Sunday. In an emotional press conference two weeks later in September, Ernie Irvan would retire from competition.
Ernie maintains his involvement with head injury awareness as part of “LAPS” (Leadership and Awareness to Promote Safety :http://www.lapswalk.org ), along with fellow driver and head injury victim Jerry Nadeau. He has begun organizing and participating in walks around racetracks, as well as an annual walk around Michigan International Speedway, the site of some of the lowest and highest points of his career and life. Ernie was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and elected to the Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2002.
James Kincer contributed to this article
©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Excellent story on Ernie Irvan….I really miss the “old” days of NASCAR. Your article brought back some fond memories. I was at Michigan in 1997. An excellent day in racing….keep up the great work…thank you, Ron D..